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Ex-Secaucus mayor indicted in corruption sweep

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST : Former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell muscled cash payments from a corrupt developer in return for promised favors through political associate Ronald Manzo, a federal grand jury indictment charges.

The indictment out of Newark today stems from an undercover FBI political corruption and international money laundering investigation that netted a trio of mayors, along with dozens of other public officials. Elwell was the first of the mayors to resign after arrests were made in the case (See: Secaucus mayor quits ).

Today’s indictment accuses him of extorting a $10,000 payment, through Manzo, in exchange for the then-mayor’s agreement to help a corrupt contractor get the necessary approvals for developments.

Former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell

The developer, although not named in the indictment, turned out to be Solomon Dwek, who agreed to help pose as a corrupt contractor for the FBI in an effort to shrink his own prison time for swindling investors and banks out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The indictment accuses Elwell and Manzo of conspiring with then-Jersey City official Edward Cheatam and others to extort cash payments from Dwek, with the promise that Elwell would help him obtain development approvals in Secaucus.

On top of that, the indictment alleges Manzo accepted a separate $5,000 cash payment for setting up the meeting with the mayor.

This is the second Indictment naming Manzo. One was returned on Oct. 6 against him and his brother Louis, accusing both of accepting $27,500 in corrupt cash payments in exchange for Louis Manzo’s anticipated official assistance on development matters once he became mayor of Jersey City.

Cheatam already has pleaded guilty based on his own acceptance of bribes from Dwek and his
role in facilitating bribes and illicit campaign contributions to other public officials and political cronies.

The indictment handed up today says Elwell, Manzo, and Cheatam met with Dwek — who was wearing a wire — on May 28, 2009 at an unnamed restaurant in Secaucus.

There, Dwek is overheard telling Elwell he was “trying to make a relationship” and that “[a]nything I do, I’ll do through” Manzo.

“Right, right,” Elwell responds, in the recorded conversation.

Dwek says he’d give Manzo $10,000 for Elwell’s benefit and then “do another $10,000 after the primary,” on June 2, 2009.

“OK,” Elwell responds.

In exchange, Dwek says, the mayor must “support [Dwek’s] stuff” and “[e]xpedite [his] applications.”

Elwell nodded his head affirmatively in response, the indictment says.

Later, Dwek gave Manzo a cash payment in the restaurant parking lot, and Manzo went back inside, it says.

Five days later, at a meeting attended by Manzo, Cheatam, and the Dwek, Manzo confirmed that Elwell had received the corrupt $10,000 cash payment and was happy with it the indictment alleges.

When Dewek asked whether he’d received the money, Elwell wrote on a napkin: “Yes. No problem.”

Elwell reinforced the message at at a July 17, 2009 meeting with Manzo, Cheatem and Dwek, the indictment says.

Dwek first says he’ll pony up an additional $10,000 payment after the November general election, to which Elwell responds, “OK.”

Then Dwek openly asks the mayor whether he was “fine with” the $10,000 payment on May 28.

“Yes,” the mayor is heard saying.

The Indictment charges Elwell and Manzo with conspiracy, attempted extortion, and accepting bribes, among other counts.

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